I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #22:
People who live outdoors. You know how after the rain you see all these dogs that seem lost, wandering around. The rain washes away all their scent, all their direction. So all the people on the album are knit together, by some corporeal way of sharing pain and discomfort.
Back in the mists of time — the '80s — I was entering the lobby of the Wiltern Theater one of the five nights Elvis Costello and the Attractions were putting on their “Spinning Wheel” concerts. The shows comprised full-on festivities with all the festooned trimmings, as go-go dancers in cages frugged away amid a carnival-like atmosphere in a bright, colorful setting replete with props — the main one being a giant spinning wheel with a considerable assortment of Costello-penned song titles radiating out like rays of angry-young-man angst, alienation, and smart pop perfection.
A hands-down bar-none Barnum fun zone, a splendid time was guaranteed for all – especially since there was to be surprise celebrity moderators to randomly draw audience members’ names from a big drum. Where she stops nobody knows, but when she stops, the luckily picked pickee comes up onto the stage with much hoopla and confetti.
Anyway, when I walked into the lobby of the Wiltern, there was Tom Waits surrounded by some orbiting and over-zealous fans. As it would turn out, he was to serve as the evening’s master of ceremonies, in more of a carnival barker mode — a perfect choice, given the crass hard sell huckster persona he assumed in Small Change’s “Step Right Up,” in which he promises all sorts of unlikely miracles and marvels, though inevitably, “The large print giveth and the small print taketh away”: "That's right, it filets, it chops/ It dices, slices, never stops/ lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn…"
Waits didn’t look especially happy about the surround-sound mini-mob. I wanted to meet him but I also didn't want to be just another jerk taking up his time — I wanted to be the only jerk taking up his time. But before I kept walking on, he noted my hesitation and caught my eye, subtly nodding his head as if to invite me over. Emboldened and feeling a bit brazen as I was seemingly being summoned, I walked around to the other side and he took this occasion to turn from the crowd to greet me while the other fans got the hint and dispersed.
Needless to say, I was flummoxed and faltering: Waits reached out and shook my hand, and I slack-jaw-yokeled something aw-shucks-like about being a big-time fan — duh, yup yup – and he said in his gargling-with-gravel-and-ground-glass mellifluousness, "Thanks, man." I would like to think, and there was reason to believe, that he was also thanking me for extricating him from loitering lingerers and malingerers — audiophile philistines all!– but I'm not sure.
I did get the impression I could've probably stayed to talk with him — maybe we could have not only talked about the weather but we would’ve hashed out some solutions on what to do about it, dammit. But I was so flustered that what passes for a thought process within me shut down all communication skills. My brain seemed to have imploded — an entire synapse grid shut down. Whatta maroon!
At least Waits didn't turn away from me as a newer batch of fans approached him from the other side…
Anyway, I brought that same kind of circumspect wariness to my initial listen of 1985’s Rain Dogs — 19 songs and 54 minutes seemed daunting in those pre-CD days — but it wasn’t long before Waits’ music, like the man himself, had pulled me into the welcoming gravitational pull.